Breathing Exercises

Angie Netterville, PTA, CMT

We are all aware that breathing is essential for life. Our breath is an amazing gift that our body just naturally does on its own. We don’t even have to think about it for a breath to occur. How cool is that? But when we use breathing as an exercise, it becomes a valuable tool for healing and relaxation. And just as there are various physical exercises, there are also various ways to do breath work. Even when we breathe normally and quiet our minds turning focus to our breath, this can be very powerful in calming the nervous system. But to give you options, you may consider the breathing techniques as follows.

Before beginning any of these exercises, do a mental scan of your body and notice if you are holding tension anywhere. Then as you do the breathing, allow the tension to release through your breath and gently relax into whatever position in which you are resting.

Diaphragmatic breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing is something most of you have probably heard about, especially if you’ve been a patient at Hands On or have attended one of my classes.

It is fairly simple to do for most, but if you are new to it, be easy with yourself if it doesn’t feel natural at first. To practice breathing with your disphragm, lie on your back. It’s okay to have your feet elevated or to sit if that feels better to you. Then place one hand on your belly at the bottom of the ribs and the other hand on your chest. Breathe normally for a few breaths and notice which hand moves more.

For many of us, we are taught to breathe with our chests so that we can hold in our stomachs. But when we breathe with our diaphragm, we send much more oxygen to our cells, and this is vital for healing.

So as you breathe, see if you are able to initiate the breath in the belly and you will feel the hand on the belly move first. The hand on the chest may move a bit at the end, but your goal is to breathe with the belly (diaphragm). If you are new to this, it may not feel comfortable to do it for very long, but try to come back to it throughout your day. If you are used to breathing this way, try practicing it as an exercise for 3 to 5 minutes imagining that your breath is expanding to your cells providing warmth and healing to your entire body.

Left nostril breathing

Left nostril breathing is considered a calming breath. All inhales and exhales are done through the nose using your thumb or finger to close off the right nostril. You can do this sitting, standing or lying down. First ask your body to relax, then breathe only through the left nostril as you quiet the mind. The goal is to do this for 3-11 minutes, but do what you can as you are getting acclimated. This is a good technique to use during times of stress or if you have insomnia, but it’s very beneficial for calming the nervous system even if these things don’t apply to you.

Right nostril breathing

Right nostril breathing is considered an energizing breath. All inhales and exhales are done through the nose using your thumb or finger to close off the left nostril. Again, this can be done in any position as you relax the body and quiet the mind. Keep focus on the breath. The goal is to do this for 3-11 minutes, but do as you are able even if it is less than that. This is a good technique to use when you feel tired or unenthusiastic.

Alternate nostril breathing

Alternate nostril breathing is considered to be a balancing breath. All inhales and exhales are done through the nose, but this time we are alternating. Using your thumb, close off the right nostril and inhale through the left. Then use the index or middle finger to close off the left nostril to exhale through the right. Stay here and inhale through the right, then close off the right and exhale through the left. Stay here and inhale through the left then repeat all steps.

I realize this is a bit tricky, but do the best you can if it feels right to continue. This breath will balance the brain hemispheres and help transition between  mental tasks. It helps with clearing the mind which makes it good to do before concentrating on a mental task or before meditation. 3-11 minutes is the goal. Again, what you are able to do is beneficial no matter how long.

Cooling breath

For a cooling breath, try breathing in through the mouth (through a curled tongue if able) and breathing out through the nose. Keep the breath slow and deep for 3-11 minutes if able.  Use this when irritable, impatient or when you are feeling angry.

Breathing exercises

When I am practicing breathing exercises, I like to create my own mantras. On the inhale I often think “I am strong” and on the exhale my thought is “I am healthy”. Others to consider might be “I am calm”, “I am peaceful”, “I am worthy”, “I am enough”, or simply use the words “peace”, “love”, “kind” etc. Choose anything that has meaning to you as only you can know what that is. This is something you are doing for yourself and your inner peace, so make it your own.

If all of these attempts to change your breath seem like too much effort, simply breathe normally and focus on each breath you are taking. Quiet the mind, and recite a mantra if it feels right. Try to allow thoughts to escape and allow peace and healing to come in with each breath. Feel this peace and healing circulate through your body into every cell.

Whatever effort you are able to give yourself today, it is enough and you are right where you are meant to be.

Angie Netterville, PTA, CMT has been practicing physical therapy since 1995 and has been with Hands On since 2009. In addition to her training in Myofascial Release, Angie has a background in Pilates, athletic performance training, and Kundalini yoga and meditation.